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COVID-19 Vaccinations Start At Florida Nursing Homes As 'Each Day Matters'

News Service of Florida

Long-term care residents and staff members at facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis directed “strike” teams to use the state’s supply of a coveted Pfizer vaccine at the facilities.

“Our residents of long-term care facilities are more susceptible to negative outcomes than people who are very young, and we also knew that protecting them was important. It’s been a big mission for my administration since day one,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis made the remarks at a news conference at John Knox Village of Pompano Beach in Broward County. Vera Leip, an 88-year-old retired teacher, was the first resident of the facility to roll up her sleeve and get vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Florida received 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. About 100,000 were sent to five Florida hospitals, and tens of thousands of doses went to CVS and Walgreens, which signed agreements with the federal government to vaccinate residents and staff members at long-term care facilities.

DeSantis also directed 21,450 doses be sent to the Florida Department of Health to help at long-term care facilities.

“We didn't want the entire fortunes to be in the hands of what those companies did,” DeSantis said of his decision to direct a portion of the first Pfizer shipment to the Florida Department of Health.

DeSantis said Broward and Pinellas counties were chosen because of the large number of long-term care facilities located in those areas. He said the state anticipates vaccinating people at 112 facilities in the two counties over the next week.

In addition to vaccinating people at facilities in Broward and Pinellas, DeSantis said the state also would provide the Pfizer vaccine to six nursing homes in Miami-Dade County. Those Miami-Dade  facilities have the ability to vaccinate their own staff and residents.

Meanwhile, DeSantis said, residents and staff at long-term care facilities in the rest of the state will have to wait until Monday, which irked the governor and Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.

Moskowitz said “each day matters” for residents at nursing homes.

“The quicker you can get in to vaccinate, the easier it is going to be over the next couple of months,” Moskowitz said. “If you wait, you are providing basically opportunities to have outbreaks in the height of respiratory season.”

The announcement came on the same day that the Department of Health released a report showing that 7,800 residents and staff members of long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with the vast majority of deaths involving residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.\

As of  Wednesday, the state had an overall total of 1,155,335 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in March. At least 20,204 Florida residents have died.

Meanwhile, Moksowitz told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday night that the state was not scheduled to receive a second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine next week.

Instead, Florida is scheduled to receive a yet-to-be approved vaccine manufactured by Moderna. The federal government is expected to give emergency use authorization to the Moderna vaccine  Friday.

Trump administration officials said this week that the logistics for the Moderna vaccine are the same as the Pfizer vaccine and that states should expect shipments to arrive as early as Monday.

DeSantis announced early Wednesday evening that the state is preparing to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week. The doses will be distributed to 173 counties in 43 counties, the announcement said.

DeSantis this month said he could have every long-term care resident vaccinated by the end of December. It’s not clear, though, whether that will occur.